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Audiobook Options for Indie Authors (and when it’s worth paying for production yourself)

| Posted in New Author Series, Tips and Tricks |

12

I’m gradually getting my library of books out in audiobook form. Some of these books are being published through Podium Publishing, some I’m doing through ACX, and some of the older ones were done through an independent production company, Darkfire Productions. For those indie authors who are interested in increasing their income by getting their books out in audiobook format, I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of each of these methods and when it makes sense to pursue them.

1. Getting Picked up by an Audiobook Publisher

star-nomad-audiobookIn the last couple years, I’ve seen more audiobook publishers contacting indie authors who have a series selling well. That’s the catch, of course. Unless you have an agent to shop things around for you, you’ll probably have to wait for these publishers to contact you.

But what if they contact you, and you were planning to do your audiobooks on your own? You have to decide whether the deal sounds like a good one and what the value add is.

Some of the main names out there are Tantor, Podium Publishing (for science fiction and fantasy), and Audible itself. Anywhere from a 10%-35% royalty (this is 10-35% of what they earn, not of the sale price of the audiobook) seems typical with advances from the low hundreds to the low thousands (I’m basing these numbers on what I’ve seen for myself and what a handful of other authors, mostly science fiction and fantasy, have told me). Some publishers won’t offer an advance but will do a higher royalty. They will cover all the production costs, which can be substantial (more on that below).

In addition to covering production costs, what do publishers add?

Publishers usually have some methods of promoting ebooks beyond just hoping for the best. As indies, it’s tough to promo audiobooks the way we can with ebooks, because there aren’t many sites that plug them and we can’t price pulse for sales (we can’t control the price at all). For running sales, the best we can hope for is for Amazon to enable Whispersync and let a listener who already has the ebook buy the audiobook for a significantly lower price. (Right now, I’ve got Star Nomad at 99 cents for the ebook, and people who buy it can pick up the audiobook for $2.99 when it’s usually 1 credit at Audible or $30 without that deal.)

That said, publishers don’t always seem to do much for audiobook promotion. It’s probably going to depend how much they have invested in you and how much potential upside they see in the title.

Publisher usually submit the audiobooks to the various industry places where they might be eligible for awards, which may help create a little buzz. It’s possible that we can submit books as indies, but it’s not something I’ve looked into, so I don’t know (feel free to comment if you know more). It’s nice having someone else handle that, though, in addition to the production.

Are there downsides to going with an audiobook publisher?

As with the print world, you’ll have less control. With my books, Podium Publishing has always asked for the original artwork and based their audiobook covers on that. They’ve done some tweaking, and I’ve been happy with the results, but depending on the publisher, you might not have much say when it comes to cover. Or you may not care for the tweaks they make.

It’s also likely that you’ll have limited input when it comes to the narrator, and finding a good narrator is huge with audiobooks. The publishers work with professionals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll pick someone who has a voice that you imagine working well with the voice of your book. On the flip side, if you produce your audiobook through ACX (currently only available to U.S. authors), you’ll be able to put a few pages out for auditions and may get as many as a hundred people submitting samples. You should be able to find the perfect person for your work.

dragon-blood-omnibus-audiobookWhether you go with a publisher or go on your own, you probably won’t get rich off audiobook sales, even with an audiobook that sticks for a while and sells well. Not everybody gets a big promo push from their publisher, and I’ve heard from a lot of people that they didn’t even make back their (relatively low) advances. But if you have a few audiobooks out in a series that’s selling moderately well, getting an extra thousand or two a month isn’t out of the question. Typically, your ebook sales will dwarf your audiobook sales and still be your main bread winner since you’re getting a much higher cut of each sale, but there’s nothing wrong with adding some income on the side and being available and discoverable in more places.

Producing an Audiobook on your Own through ACX

As I said, Podium Publishing has done several of my books now, including the first five Dragon Blood books (more coming), my Forgotten Ages omnibus, the first Fallen Empire book (more coming), and they’re also working on an omnibus for my pen name. There’s enough work and time that goes into selecting a narrator, having them produce the chapters, and proofing the chapters that I’ve been happy to give them the rights to books they’ve asked for. Since I’m a prolific author, I know it would take me ages to get all these novels out there.

Publishers, however, are usually going to be more interested in recent releases that are selling well. So, what happens if you have older books or series that you would like to see in audiobook form? Or if you just want to have full control?

torrent-audiobookACX is definitely an option (as I mentioned, you have to be in the U.S. right now, but hopefully, they’ll open up to everyone eventually). You’ll foot all the upfront costs, but you’ll keep a bigger cut on each sale (currently 40% of retail sales if you’re exclusive with them, which means you’ll be in Amazon and Apple and 25% if you’re not exclusive — note, my first three Emperor’s Edge audiobooks were first published on Podiobooks for free, so I get the lower cut on those).

You’ll also be eligible for “bounty payments.” That means: “ACX pays Rights Holder and Producer $50 every time the audiobook is the first audiobook purchased by an AudibleListener™ member on Audible. The $50 payment is split 50-50 between Rights Holder and Producer, amounting to $25 each.”

I just published my third novel and fourth title with ACX, and it’s rare for me to see those bounty payments, so I wouldn’t count on that money.

So, how much does it cost to produce an audiobook through ACX? You’ll pay per finished hour (it may take a narrator and producer 5+ hours to get one finished hour), so the longer the book, the more you’ll pay. I just published my fourth Emperor’s Edge audiobook, after a long gap in production and a narrator switch, and it was about $5,000 for 14-odd hours. My narrator is on the higher end for ACX ($200-$400 per finished hour is typical), but comes with a producer, and they make a really clean book. My proof “listeners” haven’t had to make many notes. Torrent, the first audiobook I did through ACX, wasn’t quite as daunting price-wise, since it was about 9 hours for the complete book. It’s still a big chunk of change, and, here’s the biggie: you really need to consider whether you’re going to earn back your money any time soon.

conspiracy-audiobookAs I mentioned before, audiobook earnings aren’t usually huge, and it’s hard to know how to promote them — there aren’t big lists of sponsorship sites and pricing tricks you can use the way you can with ebooks. Your best bet right now is basically to try to get promos on the ebooks and make sure those keep selling, because some of the people surfing to your Amazon page will be audiobook fans and might pick it up if it’s an option.

When you’re doing an older series, maybe one where you’ve closed things off and completed it years ago, it may be even tougher to earn back the cost of production. My Emperor’s Edge series is the first thing I ever published, and it has some loyal fans, but I’ve already run Book 1 and the boxed set through the various promo sites many times, so it can be a challenge to have a good run with it and get it back into the Top 100s on Amazon. I’m honestly not sure if these audiobooks will earn out. I’ve having new covers made that will debut early next year, and that may help me get some new eyeballs on the series, but I’m also considering doing a limited time Patreon campaign to fund the last few books in the series. I make enough from ebooks that I can afford to lose money producing the audiobooks, but I’d rather not, since that doesn’t make much business sense!

I haven’t mentioned yet that there’s another way to finance the production of your ACX audiobooks: a royalty split with the narrator.

If you don’t have money to use up front, you can put your book out there and hope a good narrator will be interested in the split option. Then you’ll be sharing your 40% earnings with them for the next seven years. The challenge here is that it’s going to be rare for a high quality narrator with a quality setup to want to take on a royalty split gig, considering how much work goes into producing an audiobook. They may do it if you’re a bigger name author or it’s clear that you have a hit on your hands, but if that’s the case, you’re earning enough in ebook sales that you probably don’t need to do a royalty split. (And if your book continues to sell well, you may regret giving away half the royalties as time goes on.)

Another Option: Independent Audiobook Producers

For those who aren’t in the U.S. and can’t do ACX, another option is to find an independent audiobook producer. This (and recording your books yourself) was the main way it was done before ACX came on the scene and before more audiobook publishers started looking for indie authors to work with. With these guys, you’ll pay for the narrator and the production, the same as with ACX, and then they’ll negotiate with Audible to get your books into their store.

I’m afraid I don’t have a big list of producers that I can point you to, but Darkfire Productions did my first three Emperor’s Edge audiobooks several years ago. I would have likely kept going with them, but my narrator got busy and couldn’t continue on, and I decided to put things on pause at that point. Originally, I’d started producing the series so it could go out free on Podiobooks (like a podcast) to help with growing an audience, so I wasn’t making that much from sales.

For those who are interested in this route, it’s going to be just as expensive as ACX, if not more so, so make sure you have your pennies set aside.

My Audiobook Earnings

For those who are curious about such things, this is about how my audiobook earnings broke down for the last year. These series are very different, and some of these books are older and poorer sellers and vice versa (my ACX numbers would surely look very different if I’d done my Dragon Blood or Fallen Empire series there), so there’s not much use in doing an across-the-board earnings comparison, but I’ll share anyway.

Podium Publishing ~ $18,000

The Dragon Blood Omnibus Amazon | Apple

Patterns in the Dark (DB4)

The Blade’s Memory (DB5)

The Forgotten Ages Saga Amazon | Apple

Star Nomad Amazon | Apple

Tantor (hasn’t earned out 2015 advance)

Stars Across Time (pen name stand alone) Amazon | Not on Apple

ACX ~ $3,500

Torrent (Rust & Relics 1) Amazon | Apple

Destiny Unchosen (novella)

Thornfall (R&R2)

Conspiracy (EE4) (just published so doesn’t figure into earnings yet)

Darkfire Productions ~ $1,000 (no new titles since 2012)

The Emperor’s Edge Amazon| Apple

Dark Currents (EE2)

Deadly Games (EE3)

The Final Verdict

Here are my final opinions, now that I’ve done audiobooks three ways:

If an audiobook publisher approaches you, and you’re busy with writing and life and don’t mind giving up some control, it’s worth saying yes and handing over the rights for them to produce the book.

If nobody has approached you or you want full control over the process, then ACX is an option. But, unless you have money to burn, I’d only recommend it for titles that are already selling well in ebook form (probably sub 10,000 overall in the Kindle Store). It’s not impossible for an audiobook to take off even if the ebook didn’t (Torrent actually sells fairly well for me, given that it’s never been a big ebook seller and I haven’t published a new installment in the series for several years), especially if it has a great cover, but chances are, you’re not going to earn back your investment on books that sell less than 100 ebooks a month.

What are your thoughts? Have you done audiobooks? How have they done for you?

Putting Short Stories into Multi-Author Anthologies for More Exposure (and more money)

| Posted in Advertising, Tips and Tricks |

15

Anthologies have been around for a long time, and it’s no surprise that indie authors are editing and publishing them, along with all other types of fiction.

We’ve talked before about how it’s tough to do well with short stories, in part because readers often prefer longer fiction, and in part because the minimum price you can list your ebooks for on Amazon and the other stores (without doing free) is 99 cents. When you sell entire novels for 3.99 or thereabouts, it can be tough to ask a dollar for a story that might only be 5,000 words and take 20 minutes for someone to read.

I thought I’d present another option, something that I’ve done in the past with my pen name and that I’ll be participating in again this summer (this time with my usual name).

Right now, I’m working on a new science fiction series (for regular readers, think The Emperor’s Edge in space). Since it’s a new genre for me, and I’m not sure how many of my fantasy-loving fans will jump over to it with me, I’m looking for promo ideas. I was pleased when fellow SF&F author C Gockel approached me about putting a short story into an anthology with about ten other authors. Right away, I got excited about writing a short story that could work to lead people into my new series, much as Ice Cracker II did several years ago for my Emperor’s Edge series (long before I made EE1 free, I made that short story free).

With the Ice Cracker II ebook, I made a single short story free. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are a few reasons why I’m more excited about multi-author anthologies now (and why you may want to consider organizing one for short fiction too).

1. Multiple authors involved means multiple people promoting it

If you publish a short story on  your own, chances are you’re going to be the only one promoting it.

Much as with boxed sets, if you do an anthology with 8 or 10 authors, you have 8 or 10 people promoting it. You’ll send word of it out to your mailing list, and they’ll send the word out to theirs. If you get a couple of established authors in the mix, with thousands of people on their mailing lists, that can be quite a bit of exposure that you wouldn’t usually have.

Instead of a few hundred people checking out your short story, you may get thousands, or even tens of thousands, especially if the book ends up sticking on Amazon, something that’s more likely to happen with all of those people helping promote.

2. You’ll probably make more money overall

In the case of our scifi anthology, I believe we’re going to make it permafree, since our goal is to get as much exposure as we can (I want to get people to try my series more than I want to make money from the short story). But you don’t have to do that.

With an anthology, you’ll likely end up with an ebook that has as many words in it as a novel, so there’s no reason you can’t charge 2.99 and get the 70% royalty.

You can also charge 99 cents if you want more sales overall. Believe it or not, with lots of people promoting these multi-author collections, you can make some money even at 99 cents and even divided eight ways.

3. It’s possible to get ads for an anthology

There are precious few promo sites out there that will let you plug a short story, even if you try to throw money at them. Their readers want full-length novels, and for the most part, that’s what they take. This can make it super tough to sell many copies of your short stories unless you already have a big mailing list of fans and unless you’re writing something that ties into one of your regular series.

But an anthology is a different beast, and numerous sponsorship sites will accept them. Even Bookbub will run anthologies now and then. If you want a BB ad, you’ll probably have to start at a higher price and be prepared to discount to a lower price if you’re accepted (i.e. going from 2.99 to 0.99 or from 0.99 to free). Some people will launch their collection at a low price, such as 99 cents, and promo it to their lists, and then raise the price to 2.99 for a few months before applying — Bookbub likes to give their readers discounted books.

If you’re able to snag a Bookbub and can combine that with all the promo that everyone is doing to their lists, then you can definitely get a lot of eyes on your short story. Compare this to just launching a short story on your own, and I think you’ll see a big difference in the results.

I’ll let you know how my own results are this summer when I have the new series out and when we publish the anthology (as I mentioned, I’ve already had good luck doing this with the pen name — I joined several other authors last summer in writing original novellas for a boxed set, and we hit the USA Today list on our release week.)

Are There Really “Secrets” to Self-Publishing Success?

| Posted in Tips and Tricks |

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If you visit the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards in any given week, you can find authors plotting ways to engineer a bestseller or asking if there’s a way to work the system in order to “stick” on Amazon. Everybody wants success — of course! So, what’s the real secret to getting it?

Well, not surprisingly I’m going to tell you that for the vast majority of us, it involves thinking of this as a career, writing a lot of books, and accumulating more and more readers along the way.

The good news is that you don’t need to be anywhere within sniffing distance of the Top 100 on Amazon to make good money. Really good money.

If you find an indie author who has several full-priced ebooks (not 99 cents) in a series under a 10,000 sales ranking on Amazon, and they’re there consistently from month to month, that author is probably going to clear six figures this year. The more books you have out (that are selling at least moderately well), the easier it is to make that kind of money.

So what are my tips for making things sell moderately well?

I’m going to assume you’ve already read blogs and forums or have listened to podcasts and know the basics: write in a series, have awesome cover art, have a blurb that appeals to the target audience, have entertaining and well-edited stories, and pay attention to what’s working right now in the marketing world (we talk a lot about this on our Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, and most of the stuff applies to all genre fiction).

Beyond that? Here are my three suggestions:

Develop your own unique voice

I don’t think this gets emphasized enough in self-publishing circles. It’s what turns your books from a commodity into something that readers must have because no other author can deliver the same experience. It’s what gets people to not only read the book they chanced across on Amazon but to continue on and read your other books and your other series, as well. If you’ve had one series that sold well but then launched a second one to the sound of crickets, not having a compelling voice may be part of the problem (especially if those series are in the same genre).

So, how do you develop a unique and compelling voice?

Honestly, this mostly comes from writing a lot and from not being afraid to put your personality above the prettiness of the words. When you get started, your voice will often sound a lot like the voices of whoever your favorite authors are. That’s okay. It’s probably somewhere after your first 500,000 or million words that you stop emulating others and find your own style. Eventually, you internalize all of the writing rules and learn to stop worrying so much about whether your sentences have too many “to be” verbs. You just write, with the story flowing straight from the creative part of your brain to the keyboard, and it comes out in your voice.

Your voice has your sense of humor, it has your prejudices and passions, and it has your unique way of looking at the world. Essentially, it’s you on the page.

Will everybody love your voice? Of course not. But for those who have similar tastes, it will be an amazing match. Some of those readers will become lifelong true fans. You get enough true fans, and you won’t need to worry about paying the bills again (so long as you keep writing).

Publish consistently

I don’t think this gets emphasized enough either. For the most part, your six-figure (and more) indie authors of today are people who have been publishing the kinds of books their readers want regularly for years.

Not everybody can publish 10 books a year (few can!), but if you can publish one or two or three a year, and keep doing it regularly, you’ve got a much better shot at lasting success than someone who goes on a tear and publishes six books in six months and then disappears for three years.

Why?

With every new book that you put out, it’s like a doorway, a chance that someone can find a way into your world. And readers who have already found you will get used to thinking, ah, it’s November… I wonder if so-and-so has a new book out, since she usually publishes something in the fall. You’ll become a part of their regular schedule, something they look for at certain times of the year.

Time is on your side, too. Fans are accumulated over months and years. You’ll promote your books again and again, each time finding a few more readers. Even people who didn’t grab your stuff instantly will see your name again and again in the genre lists that they browse, and maybe it’ll be Series #3 that finally draws them in.

Also, the more books you publish, the more likely it is you’ll have something hit. Yes, you can write to genre tropes and try to engineer a bestseller, but that’s more likely to fail than succeed, unless you already have a big audience built up. The truth is that even the big publishers, corporations that have piles of money to throw behind advertising, don’t know ahead of time what’s going to hit.

In my own experience, it’s usually the book you don’t expect to be a hit that ends up sticking at the top of your category on Amazon for months. And the book you thought would push all the right buttons and become a big seller just does okay. Fortunately, for indie authors making 70% on each ebook we sell, steady earners are just fine. You can quit your day job once you have a stable of steady earners.

Consistently market your books

There’s that word consistency again. People really do underestimate the power of sticking around after so many others have dropped to the wayside.

I’m not one of those people who says you have to spend %X of your time marketing or that you have to do something every day, but I do try to do something every month that will result in a few hundred more readers trying one of my Book 1s. If I’m lucky and score a Bookbub ad, maybe that will be a few thousand. But that doesn’t always happen.

What are the things you can reliably do each month?

  • Play around with running sales on your Book 1 and buying a few ads.
  • Join (or create) a multi-author boxed set with your series starter in it, or do an anthology with all-new fiction that leads into your series.
  • Join (or start) a mailing list campaign with other authors in your genre, where you put together a list of everyone’s free or 99-cent books and then each agree to share the list with your subscribers.
  • If you’re in KDP Select, try rolling Countdown Deals where each month (or even week), you have something that’s on sale for 99 cents.

I’m a big fan of doing things that have lasting impact when it comes to marketing. Back in 2011, I had audiobooks made of the first three books in my Emperor’s Edge series, and I put them out there for free via Podiobooks. I still have people emailing me to tell me that they first found my books that way. Ditto for Wattpad. I don’t do anything to promote stuff there, but I have the first three books in that series up there, too, and people still find the posts and read the books that way, some going on to buy the rest of the series.

Try different things. Keep track of what moves the needle. Avoid wasting time and money on the things that don’t. Month after month, if you keep getting new people to try your work, you should be able to increase the number of fans you have, and you’ll get to the point where you always have people moving through your various series and buying your books. Income becomes steady and reliable. And voila: you become a successful author.

How to Increase Sales at Apple iBooks

| Posted in Book Marketing, Tips and Tricks |

16

Before I jump into this post, I have to disclose that Apple is my #4 earner and that while I always sell books there, I’m not a rock star by any means. (For me, sales at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble always come out ahead.) Buuut, I’ve started to upload directly to Apple, and I plan to put more effort into getting on the radar with iBooks readers in 2016. I chatted with a rep from Apple and got some tips, and I also took notes at a “sell more ebooks at Apple” panel this summer at the RWA con. (The authors hosting it were rock stars on iBooks, with some outselling even the big Amazon kahuna.)

So this post is a summary/best practices from my notes. I hope you’ll find the information helpful. If you’ve found any tricks for improving visibility and sales at Apple, let us know!

First off, why bother?

Despite Apple being my fourth biggest income earner, it’s reputedly the second biggest market out there, so the potential for growth may be much more than at Kobo and B&N.

Also, Apple has global reach. Many of the sales I get there come from countries outside of the U.S.. They (and their iPhones) are all over the place. There are a lot of countries where an e-reader or tablet is too much of a luxury item for the average person go buy, but everyone gets a phone, and the iBooks reader comes pre-loaded on the Apple IOS (Google Play will be another market to watch out for, since they, too, are tied to a phone — I’m starting to get emails from readers who have enjoyed my books on their Androids).

The good news for authors is that in addition to all this sales potential, Apple seems to be making more of an effort these days to promote and sell their iBooks. Beyond adding the iBooks reader to their OS, they’ve been reaching out to more indies and running themed promotions in the various genres. Romance, in particular, seems to get a lot of love there, but there are plenty of self-published authors represented in other genres too.

How do you get on their radar and receive email about the opportunities they’re offering?

If you use a distributor to get into Apple, I’ve heard of authors getting in touch with the Draft 2 Digital and Smashwords people and asking about promotions (it probably helps if you’ve got several books out and are selling some already). If you’re able to go to any of the bigger conventions (i.e. Book Expo America, RWA, etc.) where Apple, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. have reps, it may be as easy as walking up to their booths and putting your name and email address on a sign-up sheet. I did that with B&N this summer, and I’m on their promo list now.

So, in short, Apple has a huge audience and they’re looking for indies to promote right now.

All right, here’s the list of things you can do to improve sales, with or without access to those promo opportunities:

1. Sign up for the Apple Affliate program and link to your iBooks on your website, newsletters, and from within your own ebooks.

Every author should post their book links to all of the main stores, so I won’t spend much time on that, but you may not know that Apple, like Amazon, has an affiliate program. I’ve finally gotten myself signed up and will use affiliate links for my own books going forward (someday, when I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll go back and update all of the links for my existing books on here too). I’ve used affiliate links with Amazon all along, and in addition to providing a small extra source of income, it gives you a means of tracking book sales that originate from your site and newsletters.

If you have audiobooks, you stand to earn more, too, on those affiliate sales.

2. Use their promo codes + pre-orders to launch with a boost and lots of reviews

Promo Codes for iBooks

Lots of people, from authors to e-tailers and distributors, have mentioned that pre-orders can really boost sales and rankings in the non-Amazon stores, where the sales help with release day visibility, but you may not have realized that Apple lets you give away copies of your book without the hassle of emailing people your files. Your non-tech-savvy readers will thank you for this, and it may make it easier for you to get iBooks specific reviews.

You do need to be uploading direct to iBooks in order to access the promo codes. Find them by heading to your iTunes Connect page, selecting “My Books,” clicking on the book, and clicking on the “Promo Codes” button.

I haven’t played with the promo codes yet, as I only recently started uploading ebooks directly there, but I’m looking forward to seeing if I can make a splash in 2016 with the launch of a new series.

Note: Apple now allows you to upload “asset-less” pre-orders up to a year in advance, meaning you don’t need the ebook file or even the cover, if you upload directly. If the sales are strong on a pre-order, it’s possible Apple will feature your book in their what’s-coming category.

3. Do a first-in-series free book

There’s been a lot of talk of how permafree isn’t working as well these days, especially at Amazon where the freebie seekers may have shifted en mass to Kindle Unlimited. Well, we’re talking Apple here, not Amazon, and in Mark Coker’s big end of year “what worked in 2015” report, he reported that authors with free Book 1s were outselling those without free series starters in their partner stores, including Apple.

If you surf around in the iBooks store, you’ll see that the free books are fairly easy to find. One day, they’ll make me super happy by adding the ability to drill down into sub-categories instead of just lumping all of the fantasy stuff under fantasy. On that note, it’s also a good idea to browse around their store and to get a feel for how things work there and what books are selling well in your genre.

Extra tips:

#1 Make sure to use 2-dimensional covers for collections, boxed sets, etc.

I’ve noticed that you can get the 3D bundle images into the Apple store if you upload directly, but they’ve stated that they will only feature flat 2D book covers, so make sure you have a 2D version of all of your “boxed sets” for them.

#2 Tweet links to your books on Twitter and include the @iBooks account.

We’re all told not to spam our buy-my-book links on Twitter, but if you’re running a sale or have a new release, that’s the time to share on the social media sites. Instead of making a tweet with links to three or four stores jammed in there, do specific ones for each store. Make them clever or throw in interesting quotes, and include the @iBooks account on the Apple tweets. I’m sure they tagged often, but you can see from their feed that they do occasionally retweet things to their 500K+ followers.

#3 Be aware that iBooks readers may pay more for ebooks

I’ve heard in a couple of interviews with the folks who distribute to Apple, as well as the authors who led the iBooks panel at RWA, that Apple readers may be willing to pay more for ebooks than readers at other stores. The reasoning is that iPhones, iPads, and Macs are among the most expensive devices out there, so Apple users in general may have more disposable income that they’re willing to spend on quality digital content.

I wouldn’t charge more for a book on one store than I did on another, but I have been thinking about putting together a boxed set with my complete Emperor’s Edge series (7 books + a novella) and selling it for 19.99 on Kobo and Apple. There’s no point on Amazon, since you only get 35% on ebooks priced above 9.99, but it looks like Kobo and Apple both give you the 70% for higher priced items. (If anyone is doing this and wants to report, I’d love to hear about it.)

That’s it from my notes, but if you have any other tips or want to share your experiences with Apple, please comment below.

Oh, and if you’re a fantasy fan, be sure to grab Balanced on the Blade’s Edge or the first Emperor’s Edge book free on iBooks! 🙂

Apple’s: Marketing Your Book on iBooks page.

Pre-Orders, Sticking on Amazon, and Hitting Best Seller Lists

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales, Tips and Tricks |

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For a while now, you’ve been able to upload your ebook early on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and some of the other sites, listing it for pre-order 90 days (Amazon) to a year (iBooks) ahead of time, as many of the traditional publishers do with their titles.

In most cases, you need to have a dummy file as part of the process, but some of the distributors are able to get you into stores now with “asset-less” pre-orders, meaning all you need is the title and book description. You don’t even need a cover.

As I write this, you still need a complete .mobi file for Amazon. Lots of people use temporary files (I put a rough draft up there when I did the pre-order for my last Dragon Blood book). You just need to make sure you upload the final draft at least ten days before the publication date on Amazon, because everything gets locked up in that last ten days.

But the real question is…

Should you list your ebooks for pre-order?

I’m going to make part of this equation easy: for all other sites besides Amazon, the answer seems to be yes, if you can swing it and deliver it on time (even if you don’t deliver it on time, there’s not a huge punishment for a delay at those stores).

It probably won’t make a difference if you don’t have a following yet, but if you have a series that’s selling well (or selling at all) on Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and/or Kobo, then having a pre-order can help you get sales while you’re fresh in the readers’ minds (i.e. If they finish Book 3, and see Book 4 available as a pre-order, even though the publication date is two months away, they can commit to it right then, instead of possibly forgetting about it by the time it’s released.)

On Amazon, there’s a little more to consider.

Pre-Orders on Amazon, Extra Considerations

On some of the other sites, your sales supposedly don’t count until release day, meaning you can get a big rankings boost on release day, perhaps enough to propel you to the top of the charts in your category, thus resulting in more visibility.

I say “supposedly,” because when I had Blade’s Memory up for pre-order on Kobo and Barnes & Noble, I peeked into those stores, and the book did have a sales ranking and was already showing up in the steampunk categories. I didn’t notice a huge surge on release day in either of those stores. (I never bothered looking in the iBooks store, because the Dragon Blood books have never sold as well there as they did on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.)

So I can’t say from personal experience that you’ll get a big boost if you sell hundreds or thousands of early copies in these stories (but I’ve never sold thousands anywhere except for Amazon, so maybe that’s part of the deal). I would love to hear from others on this matter, so please leave a comment with your results, if you’re doing well with pre-orders in the non-Amazon stores.

But to get back to Amazon…

When you list your ebook for pre-order there, it gets a sales ranking, as soon as you start selling copies. Even though you don’t get paid for those sales until the book goes live, it’s moving up and down in the charts, based on how it’s doing from day to day. You will not get a big surge in ranking when all of your pre-orders turn into sales on release day. You’ll just get credit for whatever sales you make that day.

This means that if you have a following and usually sell a lot of books on release day, it might be better not to do a pre-order on Amazon.

This is because if you can sell a lot of books over 2+ days there, you have a better chance of sticking, thanks to higher visibility in the charts, a surge of also-boughts (possibly with other new books launching at the same time), and the way their algorithms work in general. Nobody knows everything about those algorithms, but we have a lot of data to suggest that they’re designed to help books that already sell well. In addition to appearing in also-boughts and in charts, those high sellers can expect emails to go out recommending them to readers who have bought similar books.

However, if you’ve been running a pre-order, and all of those guaranteed sales from loyal readers have been spread out over a month or more, you may be less likely to stick in the rankings. You can sell a lot of books on release day (more later about when this can be super useful) and get a really nice paycheck, but you may lose out on visibility in the long run.

This is a big part of why I didn’t, until Book 5 in the Dragon Blood series, give pre-orders a try, except in the other stores and only to make sure the book released everywhere on the same day.

Why I Chose to Do a Pre-Order on Amazon for Book 5 in My Series

There are a couple of reasons why I decided to try it with Blade’s Memory (released on June 12th of this year).

First of, thanks to a BookBub ad back in January, the Book 1-3 bundle was still selling well this spring. I had a fourth book out in the series, and that was selling well too. I took some screenshots of my books hogging up the top slots in the steampunk category on Amazon there for a while. (Granted, steampunk isn’t a very competitive category, but slot hogging makes you feel good no matter what genre it’s in.)

In other words, I had a lot of people reading 1-4, but I didn’t have 5 ready yet. Since I figured it was only a matter of time before the earlier books dropped and stopped selling as well, I decided to get the cover done for Book 5, so I could take advantage of the other books’ popularity. Let people grab Book 5 while they’re still thinking of Books 1-4. So I put it up in early May and had it on pre-order for about 5 weeks. I ended up selling over 4000 early copies on Amazon (more than a thousand of those being in international stores — it was fun watching the sales drop onto my dashboard first when New Zealand hit midnight and then so on around the world).

In addition to striking while the iron was hot, I realized I didn’t really give a #*(@ about the sales ranking of a Book 5 in a series. I’ve heard other authors talk about how releasing new books in their series gives them a big boost in sales series-wide, but I’ve never noticed much of an increase in sales from that alone. I get boosts when I run advertising campaigns on the first books. Maybe a few people here and there notice a Book 5 and go back and check out Book 1, but I doubt anybody is going to jump into a new fantasy series there.

So basically, I had nothing to lose by doing the pre-order on Amazon and possibly had some sales to gain.

Here are some of the things that came out of the pre-order (in addition to sales) that I hadn’t considered ahead of time:

The book spent much longer than 30 days in the “Hot New Releases” window

Usually, a book gets 30 days to appear in the “hot new releases” window over in the sidebar of its category lists (assuming it’s first, second, or third in sales among the other new releases in that category). But my 30 days didn’t start ticking down until the official release day. My ebook was selling well enough (remember, this isn’t that competitive of a category) to hang out there from the time that I put up the pre-order in early May until mid-July when it hit 30 days after the release.

I have no way of knowing how many bonus sales you can get for appearing in that slot (and I’m sure it varies by category and book), but I always figure that any extra visibility, especially on Amazon, is a good thing and will probably result in some sales.

The also-boughts populated earlier than they would for an out-of-nowhere new release

If you publish a book through the KDP dashboard, even if you announce it to your mailing list and sell piles right off the bat, it usually takes 1-2 days for the also-boughts to populate, meaning that books appear in your book’s “also bought” window and (more importantly) your book appears in other books’ also-bought window.

In addition to wanting to appear in the Top 100 lists for your categories, you want to be in as many other authors’ also-boughts as possible, since it helps readers find you, even if they don’t browse those lists.

Lots of purchases before any reviews showed up

I’m fortunate that the reviews for the DB series have been fairly solid so far, but you never know when a reader who doesn’t like the direction you’re taking a series is going to jump in and leave a one-star review (and be the first one to do so) on a new release. That could make potential buyers hesitate. With a pre-order, you get people buying the book without being able to pre-judge it based on existing reviews. If you’re doing something drastic with the new title (cliffhanger! major character death!) and anticipate some grumpy readers, it might not be a bad idea to collect those sales before the reviews start showing up.

Now, you may be asking, were there any cons for me with the pre-order? Not really, but as expected, the fifth book never did get a big jump into the top slots on Amazon. I don’t think it did better than 600 or so in the overall sales rankings (I’ve had other things debut at sub-200), and it soon fell to 1200-2500, about the level that the fourth book had been selling at.

As I said, that was fine for me in this case, because I wasn’t expecting much of a benefit from appearing up high with a Book 5.

Would I do an Amazon pre-order for a brand new Book 1 that I was hoping would stick and sell well with the help of the algorithms? No, I would not.

Pre-Orders and Hitting Best Seller Lists

My nice little steampunk books aren’t in much danger of hitting the New York Times Bestseller list, but I can talk a bit about USA Today. Thanks to that Bookbub ad, my 99-cent boxed set hit the USA Today Top 150 list back in January. Also, I recently participated in a multi-author boxed set that allowed my lowly pen name to hit the USA Today list (the pen name only has about 500 people on her newsletter, and has been largely ignored of late, so hasn’t been selling in spades).

Pre-orders were key in making that list with the pen name boxed set.

Since all of the pre-order sales are reported on release day, this is your best bet to make a list outside of a BookBub run. Sales for consideration for a list have to be made during their less-than-one-week reporting period. It’s a very small window for USA Today and NYT, so you’ll also want to release on a Tuesday and try to get all of the sales in those first few days.

How many sales it takes to make a certain list varies depending on the competition, but to be safe, from what I’ve read, you probably need to plan for ~7K for the USA Today list and 15K+ for the NYT bestseller list. IIRC, I had about 6k in the week that the DB set made the USA Today list, but that was in the middle of January, so a time when book sales weren’t super high in general.

For the romance boxed set, even though we were doing all-new novellas, we didn’t have a lot of huge sellers in the set, so getting 7K sales during launch week seemed pretty daunting. But we put the set out at 99 cents more than two months before the release date (using a dummy file), and it gradually accumulated sales in the various stores.

I should point out that the sales ranking during the pre-order time wasn’t anything amazing (2-3K overall in the store), considering it was a 99-cent title with 12 authors. My fifth Dragon Blood was in pre-order status for part of the same time, and I remember that it was doing better in the rankings. But my book had a shorter pre-order period. A longer pre-order period can only help if you’re trying to accumulate sales before release.

The romance set ended up selling around 5200 copies before going live (about 4000 of those being in the U.S. and numbers that would count for a U.S. list).

For the release day (and a couple of days after), we had a lot of ads booked, and all of the authors plugged the set to their mailing lists. We ended up selling around 10,000 copies by the end of the week and hit the USA Today list at 88.

Is it possible we would have made it without pre-orders? It’s possible, but when you send out newsletters to your list, you never know if people will buy right away. They might wait for paydays or set the letter aside for later. With the pre-orders, you know those sales are going to drop right on release day. You also miss out on people who might have randomly come across the book during the pre-order period.

Note: You have to go wide if you want to make a list in the U.S. as Amazon sales alone aren’t enough to get you accepted. Your book sales also have to be reported by at least one other store (basically Apple or Barnes & Noble). I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard you need to sell at least 500 copies in a week for the stores to bother to report.

Making Lists vs Sticking on Amazon

Before I sign off, I should point out that our boxed set hit as high as 94 in the overall store, but started to drop fairly quickly. I think this is in part because it was a pretty eclectic boxed set (we gave it an action-adventure-romance theme and had everything from modern day treasure hunters to my far-future space opera romance) and didn’t really hit on the popular tropes in the genre, but I’m sure part of it was also that thousands of those sales were spread out. Had we gotten all 10,000 sales in a couple of days, we might very well have stuck up higher for longer.

Let me wrap up this long post by summarizing:

  • Pre-orders are probably a good idea, no questions asked, on the non-Amazon stores.
  • Pre-orders can be a good idea on Amazon if you’re trying to get people to buy while earlier books in a series are hot or if you think you have a chance of making a list (for most of us mere mortals, they’re probably close to required to make a list).
  • As of the time of this writing, pre-orders can hurt you on Amazon if your goal is to stick and get algorithm loving — that’s where you want to sell piles of copies over just a few days.

If you have thoughts on pre-orders or any experience with hitting the lists, please leave a comment with your thoughts!

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